Indonesia bans Hizbut group that seeks global caliphate

Indonesian Muslims shout "Allahuakbar!' (God is great) during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Muslim hardliners staged the rally denouncing a decree signed by President Joko Widodo earlier this month that could give the the government almost unfettered power to ban radical groups it deems contrary to the country's constitution. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims gather during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Muslim hardliners staged the rally denouncing a decree signed by President Joko Widodo earlier this month that could give the the government almost unfettered power to ban radical groups it deems contrary to the country's constitution. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2011 file photo, members of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia hold posters during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Indonesian government on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 banned Hizbut Tahrir, an organization that wants to establish a global caliphate, under a new presidential decree criticized as draconian by rights groups. Writings on the posters read "No to dictatorship or democracy, Yes to caliphate" and "Overthrow dictatorship, uphold the caliphate." (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File)
Indonesian Muslims shout "Allahuakbar!' (God is great) during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Muslim hardliners staged the rally denouncing a decree signed by President Joko Widodo earlier this month that could give the the government almost unfettered power to ban radical groups it deems contrary to the country's constitution. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Indonesian Muslims hold flags with Arabic writings that read: "There's no god but Allah and Muhammad are his prophet" during a rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Muslim hardliners staged the rally denouncing a decree signed by President Joko Widodo earlier this month that could give the the government almost unfettered power to ban radical groups it deems contrary to the country's constitution. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian government on Wednesday banned Hizbut Tahrir, an Islamic organization that wants to establish a global caliphate, under a new presidential decree criticized as draconian by rights groups.

Hizbut's legal status was revoked to protect national unity, said Freddy Haris, a director-general at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

The decree signed last week by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo gives the government almost unfettered power to ban organizations deemed against the constitution and the official state ideology known as Pancasila, which enshrines democracy and social justice. Rights groups say the decree undermines the right to freedom of association and governments could easily abuse its power. But mainstream Muslim groups have supported it.

Haris said Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia listed Pancasila as an ideology of the organization in its articles of association "but in fact on the ground their activities were against Pancasila and the soul of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia."

The measures follow months of sectarian tensions in the world's most populous Muslim nation that shook the government and undermined Indonesia's reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam.

Hizbut Tahrir, along with groups such as the violent Islamic Defenders Front, was behind a series of massive protests against the Jakarta governor, a minority Christian and Jokowi ally who was accused of blaspheming Islam. He subsequently lost a bid for re-election to a Muslim candidate and was imprisoned for two years for blasphemy despite prosecutors downgrading the charge to a lesser offense.

Hizbut, already banned or circumscribed in some countries, is estimated to have tens of thousands of members in Indonesia.

Spokesman Ismail Yusanto said the group "will not remain silent" and plans to challenge the decree in the Constitutional Court. He criticized the ban as an arbitrary and tyrannical decision.

About 2,000 people from Islamic groups protested against the decree in Jakarta on Tuesday, denouncing the government as repressive and tyrannical.

Police are signaling a hard-line against members of the disbanded group if they continue its activities.

National police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said all Hizbut activities including protests would be prohibited.

"Police will not allow them to hold protests since their organization is already illegal and unrecognized," Wasisto said. "They will definitely be dispersed."

Jokowi's top security minister announced in May that the government planned to ban Hizbut but facing the prospect of a lengthy legal battle, Jokowi opted to sidestep courts with the controversial decree.

Separately, Rizieq Shihab, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, which gained a national platform for its hard-line views during the Jakarta protests, has fled Indonesia during a police investigation into alleged violations of Indonesia's anti-pornography law, which his supporters say are trumped up charges.

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Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report.

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